Cultivating a sense of home.
There is an intimacy in acquiring art. The work becomes a witness to your life, steadfast yet evolving with the opportunity to look endlessly, both in fleeting glances and prolonged gazes, over weeks, months and years. The work mutates in subtle shifts that are barely noticeable at first, just as reading the same sentence repeatedly alters it until the words are foreign, beyond comprehension.
The first piece of art I bought is a print, ‘Flower’, by Malin Gabriella Nordin. Body-sized, the work consumes the main wall of my room, a consistent presence in the moments between my sleeping and waking, a guardian of my bed; made or unmade, occupied or empty, quiet or loud. I purchased Nordin’s work when I first moved to London, with some money left to me after my mother’s death. It has moved with me from flat to flat, cumbersome in its size, squeezed into cars or in the back of vans, hung inexpertly and then hung again. It anchors me to London with its weight, with the admin of its transport.
Alongside Nordin’s print, on another wall of my bedroom, hangs ‘Rainbow’, a print by Marianna Simnett. The print is small in a wooden frame, plenty of white space surrounding the watercolour of a vulva; an orgasmic rainbow of colour squirting from its opening. I initially thought of hanging it on the blank wall above my bed but decided that there was something too gauche about this, that it might cheapen the work somehow. Where it hangs now, it is visible only when my bedroom door is closed, obscured by its opening. My room is small and I like the fact that Rainbow is primarily seen from within my bed, a reminder of pleasure; the bleeding watercolour reminiscent of the seeping of bodies, collapsing beyond the brink.
I acquired ‘Apollo’s Gift II’ by painter Jane Hayes Greenwood after seeing it in her studio alongside its pair ‘Apollo’s Gift I’; the seeds of her series ‘The Witch’s Garden’. With the introduction of these works into my awareness, I started to notice things unpeeling, hearing the sound of flowers unfurling; life returning. The paintings came to me in dreams over several weeks. Based on the Silphium plant, an extinct plant with heart-shaped seeds that were reportedly used as contraceptives, the two paintings show the plant in separate moments; one with stems erect, poised and alert, and the other drooping, its stems brushing the floor, flaccid. I felt a yearning for this sleeping plant, for its painting, its vulnerability asking to be watched over; a child asleep in the cold without a blanket. I wanted to bring it warmth. There was a protectiveness that I felt that I hadn’t experienced before towards something inanimate. A sense that it was a living being that needed my nurture, a hope that within my home it could flourish and also, that we might connect in our mutual vulnerability – that it could watch me in my most intimate setting and forgive me my shortcomings.
On my windowsill, next to my incense burner and a half-dead jasmine plant (it was optimistic to think I could keep it alive in a basement flat), is a glazed ceramic post-it note by Lindsey Mendick, propped against the pane. Part of Mendick’s series, ‘You used to love that about me’, exhibited in her show ‘The Ex-Files’ at Castor Projects last year, the particular post-it note that I chose (out of a series of over 250) reads ‘And the way you wrapped your body around mine until I begged you to stop’. I remember it being a difficult choice. The post-it notes which, when read together, tell the stories of Mendick’s five previous relationships, are so resonant. Poetry, fragmented, their one-liners epitomize the both clumsy and intoxicating experience of forming a relationship; the subsequent agony of tearing it apart. From ‘Your body was my playground’, to ‘You shouted me to sleep’ and even ‘I saw a spot on your side and it made me feel even more tenderly towards you’, Mendick’s work told back to me everything I know about falling in love, and most of what I know about heartbreak. Reading them was delicious, like the teenage re-reading (and writing out, in my case) of song lyrics that make you burn for experience. I think I chose the one I did because it encouraged me to relinquish control, to allow myself to be consumed by something (someone). When I first invited my boyfriend back to my flat, I considered putting the work away, worried he might read it and think I was too ‘intense’. Although it is Mendick’s work and Mendick’s writing, my choosing of it feels revealing, almost exposing. I left it out and held my breath.
I often think about how that series is scattered now, Mendick’s words in so many homes; how it can never again be seen in its entirety. There is a severing when you buy a work of art. The work is removed from its artist, its maker, its series, its studio, and hung in an unfamiliar home amongst unfamiliar conversation (between artworks, between people); a goldfish plunged into ice cold water. In this respect, I wonder if perhaps you can never truly ‘own’ a piece of art in the way that you can never own a person. You choose it for the future, a small part of you always hoping that you don’t fall out of love.
The works I own are not necessarily representative of my taste in art as a whole but they speak to a particular fragment of my self, a desire to nurture, a need for reminders of life, an openness that I cultivate within my home. The works are talismans, framing the ways in which I choose to live. They have become the stones with which I draw a protective circle around myself, the cumulative markers of my own healing. In the absence of stability, in the wake of loss, they remain unchanged – a cornerstone in my evolving as a person; an opportunity to look and to ground, to exist in uncertainty.
Words by Tess Charnley